“Okay, I’ll try. But don’t get your hopes up. I doubt a simple conversation with me is going to magically fix her.”
Rhea smiled and gave me a tight hug. “Thank you! I know it won’t be easy, but I honestly believe it’ll help. Besides, if nothing else, maybe it will help you two grow close again.”
I didn’t bother arguing with her. If Rhea wanted to believe that some girl talk could erase months of resentment and pain, who was I to disillusion her?
“Now, enough woolgathering.” Rhea shook herself. “Are you ready to try some interspatial travel?”
I went still, as if sudden movement might scare off the opportunity. “Really?”
I’d been begging Rhea for months to teach me how to travel magically. But she’d insisted on going back and covering the basics of magic before we jumped into big magic. To me, it felt like taking about ten steps back after some of the magical feats I’d managed during battle, but she claimed that if I ever wanted to gain control over my powers, I’d need a stronger foundation in the fundamentals.
“I’ve been pleased with your progress lately.” She smiled proudly. “You’re ready.”
“Awesome!” I said. “I can’t wait to not have to ride the subway anymore.”
She leveled me with a look. “Not so fast, missy. What’s the first rule I taught you about magic?”
“Magic must always be used responsibly,” I said in a monotone.
“Exactly. Having the ability to wield magic is no excuse for laziness.” Her posture went schoolmarm erect as she paced before me. “You can’t just flash around willy-nilly because you’re too lazy to climb some stairs.”
“Rhea, I might be stubborn and impatient, but I think I’ve proven by now that I’m not lazy.”
She put a hand on my arm. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
I smiled at her so she’d know I wasn’t really offended. Then I clapped my hands and rubbed them together. “Okay, what’s first?”
Thirty minutes later, she’d gone over the entire process verbally, walked me through it by flashing out and back again, and made me repeat the instructions from memory. So by the time she said I should try it myself I was impatient to get started.
“Now, let’s try something easy. Pull up an image of the hallway in your mind. Make sure it’s as detailed as possible or you may end up in some random hallway in gods-know-where.”
I nodded and closed my eyes. Breathing in slowly through my nose and exhaling through my mouth, I pictured the hallway. The dove-gray walls, the Greek urns, the dark wooden floors, the window at the end of the hall.
“Can you see it?” Rhea whispered.
“Yes,” I responded on the next exhale.
“Take your time. Now imagine the scent, feel the air.”
I inhaled again, imagining the scent of the white roses I’d seen in a vase on the console table just outside the room. Drafty air from the cracked window prickled my skin.
“Say the words.”
One more long breath. “Daltu peta.”
The wind rose around me, a vortex opening. As Rhea had instructed, I kept the image of myself standing in the hall in my mind. Cold air rushed in my ears. Static crawled over my skin. Power surged through my veins.
Then, as quickly as it came to life, the wind died. My ears popped. And the power settled to a low hum in my solar plexus. It was only a flash of time, but it felt longer.
Labored breathing. Heart thudding in my ears. I settled back into my skin. The air brushing my skin felt colder.
I’d done it. I had finally traveled through space without anyone’s help. Smiling, I opened my eyes.
Shock hit me like a blast of magic.
Instead of looking at the hallway I’d been expecting, I was standing in a vast expanse of nothing. Well, not nothing exactly, but the landscape before me was little more than a barren field coated in gray ash—like pictures I’d seen of the surface of the moon. And despite the general dreariness, the light hurt my eyes, like a full moon’s light reflecting off snowdrifts.
But there was no sun here. No moon. No stars. The sky was an oily black dome pressing down on me.
The warped echo made my blood rush. Where the hell was I? I spun in a circle, my heart throbbing in my ears. Not far from where I stood, a crossroads of sorts spread out in a wagon-wheel pattern. In the center of the eight spokes, a bright red flag flapped in an unfelt breeze.
Now that my eyes had adjusted to the odd light, I could see farther. The horizons in either direction shimmered like the edges of a mirage. Whatever this place was, it clearly wasn’t my world.
The howl clawed through the air and pierced my chest.
What was it? Where was it?
I fell back into my fighting stance. The distance was impossible to judge. Sound was both muted and amplified, like shouting underwater or screaming into sharp winter air.
I knew one thing with crystalline clarity: Whatever made that horrible sound was hunting me.
Despite my trembling limbs, I took a deep, calming breath. Despite the cold sweat coating my back and stomach, I closed my eyes and pictured the gym. Despite the fear clawing my throat, I smelled the sour, sweaty workout mats and Rhea’s sandalwood scent. And when the howl came again, this time much closer—too close—I willed myself back to that safe room with every ounce of will in my being.
The wind rose. The vortex wrapped me in its frigid arms and rescued me from the nightmare realm.
When I woke, I didn’t care how long I’d been out. Or about the cold sweat gluing my body to the floor. Never in my life had I enjoyed the pungent scent of old sweat and vinyl so much. Thank the gods—I’d made it back to the gym.
Rapid footsteps vibrated off the gym’s hardwood floor. I groaned and peeled my face from the mat. I rolled over in time to see Rhea’s face snap into focus.
“Sabina! Gods, what happened?” She knelt beside me. Worry aged the planes of her face.
“I don’t know.” I rubbed my eyes. “One minute I was focused on flashing to the hall and the next…” My voice trailed off. I tried to figure out how to describe the place I’d gone, the terror I’d felt there. “I went someplace else. Someplace… other.”
She frowned and felt my forehead. “Are you okay?”
I swallowed the clump of remembered fear in my throat. “I think so. How long was I gone?”
“Just a few seconds. You disappeared as expected but when I ran to the hall you weren’t there. By the time I made it back to the door, I heard a thud and there you were.”